Military Stories 5 – physical conditioning
One of the major parts of basic training was, of course, physical training. There were certain minimum performance standards that recruits were supposedly required to achieve before they could graduate. We had to be able to run a mile in, I think it was 8 minutes. And do six ‘regulation’ push-ups. So every day a significant portion of our day was spent doing various exercises, running a few miles here and there throughout the day and such, under the watchful eyes of not only our regular DIs but also some special ‘PC Instructors’. Somewhere around the fourth week it was determined that I was not making satisfactory progress, push-up wise. I never was any good at push-ups, but otherwise I was keeping up or excelling in the exercise program. But nothing would do but that I be sent to the ‘PC Flight’ for an evaluation. So I had to go be weighed, prodded and made to (attempt to) do some pushups while some more folks watched and took notes. The results were less than satisfactory, and I was notified immediately that I would be diverted from my regular group and sent to this special PC Flight until I could either do proper push ups or six weeks had gone by. At the end of six weeks they would 'decide what to do with me'. Needless to say, I wasn’t real happy about this. So I showed back up with my regular group just as they were finishing up around on the PC field and getting ready to run the traditional mile before heading back for showers and lunch. Come time to run the mile, I ran the slowest mile in the history of the Air Force. I took little steps. I beat my feet frantically and made inchwise progress. The others, even the slowest guys lapped me several times. No one except my DI, to whom I had reported the results of the testing on arrival, knew what was going on, but they all knew that big entertainment was coming. Everybody else was done, standing around in formation ready to march off to lunch, and I was still out there on the track moving my feet fast and going nowhere. Now, the DIs, even the PC instructors were not accustomed to actually do any running themselves. In fact, they weren’t really in very good shape themselves. They would station themselves at the corners of the track to harass the stragglers. And on this day there was plenty of harassing going on, with threats of jail and such. Every time I would come into range and one of them would start up I would stop, snap to attention and say, “I’m sorry sir I didn’t quite hear you, would you mind repeating that ?” They started telling me they knew I could run faster than that, to which I would reply that the PC evaluators didn’t seem to think so and that I surely required more exercise. Finally my DI got so pissed that he was trying to chase me around the track and kick me in the ass at the same time. (At that point, I began to pick up the pace just enough to stay barely out of his reach.) Ever try to run and kick somebody in the ass at the same time ? Finally he tripped over his own feet and fell in a heap, much to the delight of everyone, even his buddies. A big cheer went up and then everyone was required to stand at attention in the blazing sun. My work finished, I resumed a normal pace, maybe even pushing it a bit for the last lap, and off we went to lunch.
But the PC flight was actually pretty much fun. It was mostly fat guys who didn’t meet the weight curve. Them they starved. The rest of us who needed to build muscles got to eat as much superior quality food as we wanted. Back then I was a big meat eater, but I finally got tired of steak. And we ran. A mile before breakfast. Run to the chow hall. Clean up the dorm for an hour until the rules said we could run again, run another mile or two, do some exercises, run back home and shower up for lunch. After lunch and the hour wait we ran 2 miles to the obstacle course and ran through that a few times, did a few exercises and ran back 2 miles to the dorm for showers and dinner. After dinner we were free to roam around the base (unheard of for the other trainees). We could go anywhere except places where food was available, so the fat guys wouldn’t fall off the wagon. By the end of the six weeks I could consistently run the mile in under 6 minutes every time and go for several miles at a pace that was not much slower. I equaled, but never managed to beat the base record for the obstacle course. (There were a few places that required upper body strength.) But I never did improve at push-ups. After six weeks of that they had to do something with me, so I rejoined another regular flight to finish out basic training. By then I was old in the ways of basic training. I could fold underwear in my sleep, and organize a closet in the blink of an eye, or polish a latrine with the best of them. My resolve to maintain myself in the best physical condition I had ever been in by running at least a mile a day faded fast when I was assigned to Tech School in Denver (the mile high city) and got a whiff of that thin air the first (and last) day I went out on the track to do my daily run. Now if I had to run to the end of the block it would probably kill me. But it was fun while it lasted.